Insight into the making of a monster

actor playing Mary Shelley, Kristin Atherton.
actor playing Mary Shelley, Kristin Atherton.
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The image of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster is so rooted in our consciousness that we often forget that the film was based on the debut novel of Mary Shelley, a young girl, born at the very end of the 18th century.

Even those who have read her book, published anonymously in 1818 to immediate success, will most likely be unaware of her unconventional history; as the outspoken daughter of two radicals William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft it could hardly be anything but.

Helen Edmunson’s powerful new play, premiered in Leeds this week, chronicles Mary’s early life from the time when she first met and later married the feckless poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was just 16, to the blossoming of her literary career a few years later.

Shared Experience has a reputation for bringing together some of the finest actors of their generation and this was certainly the case here.

Although it’s difficult to single out any of the cast for special praise Kirstin Atherton as Mary does deserve a mention. The role demands a great deal of an actor and she carries it off well.

And it is to Sadie Shimmin’s credit that she manages to bring some warmth to the character of the draconian Mrs Godwin, Mary’s stepmother, and allows the audience to see glimpses of her as a woman, worn down by hard work and responsibility rather than just a thoroughly nasty character.

Much of the narrative takes place in the family bookshop and, by way of a few subtle changes, the cleverly constructed set is transformed into a number of other locations quite convincingly

JULIE MARSHALL